Graham Young’s paintings provide a charming and idiosyncratic view of New Zealand life, mostly from the view of a summer tourist. The paintings are full of light and bold colours, and reproduced particularly well, with a sympathetic design.
The book has something of a classical, sometime rustic feel, as it highlights older structures, often restored, or the rusting corrugated iron of old garages and aging baches. Most of the settings are on the coastline, but Young begins his journey away from the sea, in Central Otago, in the Turner/Sydney country. Indeed, Young’s Omakau rail shed is very similar to Graham Sydney’s more famous Wedderburn ’75, except that Young’s paint brings brighter colours and deeper red to the old shed.
The Central Otago rail trail has brought parts of the region to life, and helped develop new facilities in otherwise ageing buildings and little sheds. But the corrugated iron shed of the Lowburn Collie Dog Club indicates how good Young is at reproducing signage, both in logos and writing, and providing a hint of humour within the image.
After a quick trip through the West Coast and Abel Tasman National Park we see some of the other things that Young likes to paint: modes of transport. There are kayaks in the Park; and a carpark with heavy-laden old examples of a Mini, a VW Beetle, and a Morris Minor next to each other. All three models appear again in the North Island, as well as the VW combi van, and the odd Holden Kingswood.
Following a few pages highlighting the Taranaki region, the rest of Young’s paintings come from the Auckland region, city and countryside, and from Northland. So there are more beach scenes with people on summer excursions; many old baches, caravans and garages for car and kayaks; and more old cars laden with luggage. The most effective painting involves a double page spread of three baches with a lot of characteristics details, including a variety of craft, surfboards and hanging towels.
Apart from all this summer bliss, Graham Young has a particular interest in the suburban dairy, and Auckland shop frontages in general. This is partly due to the architecture, and to capture the dairy’s feel before they disappear. But a closer look highlights his fascination with signage, especially the reproduction of magazine billboards, including some familiar celebrities with headlines he has made up.
So all in all this is a modest but fascinating slice of life collection, where Young celebrates the traditional or timeless summer holiday and some iconic Kiwi architecture. In a way his written commentaries are interesting but superfluous.
Reviewed by Simon Boyce
New Zealand: a Painted Journey
By Graham Young
Published by New Holland Publishers